A 20th Century Western Murder Mystery
Written about 1979-1980
We inherited the business together. Dude Ranching was all Paul and me--his sister, Merrilee--had ever known. We were raised on our folks' dude ranch, Sky High (named that because we were way up in the mountains). We offered privacy, scenic splendor, horses geared to fit the person, reasonable rates, and we opened earlier in the season and stayed open later than our competitors.
We had a good reputation and a lot of times the same people kept coming back and bringing their friends. We didn't have any trouble, usually---until that summer last year somebody started killing off our clients.
I'd like to tell you about that. Things haven't been the same since, especially with Paul gone, too. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Mom and Dad left us suddenly, about three years ago. Their pickup slid off our icy mountain road just before the season opened and Paul and me were left to carry on. We couldn't cancel. It was too close to people coming, and I don't think either of us ever really considered not opening the season that year. It was our business, our income. What we made in summer had to get us through the whold year. Paul sometimes worked out, though, in spite of a good season. He was too restless to stay at home all winter, except he didn't have much choice when the snow fell too heavily to clear for a few days.
We'd always managed to keep our roads cleared. We had our own equipment. When the folks died, a lot more of the work fell on my shoulders. Not that I minded. My brother Paul was fun to work with. He was so intelligent. He knew how to do a lot of things. I was so proud of him.
But that last summer changed things. I guess Paul was still upset over our folks getting killed. We'd all been real close. He was moodier than normal for him, plus he'd found a girl he wanted to marry, too, Victoria Blaine. She'd been engaged before, twice, and both times left the men jilted. I wondered if she'd do that to Paul, but she never did. She seemed to really be in love with him, and that was ok by me, as long as she treated him right.
She came around a lot and helped us out. She was a brunette. Her hair was long and silky. I guess she'd been a model before she came to the mountains. She was definitely not a small town country girl, unsophisticated and all.
My brother Paul you'd think wouldn't be her type. He's tall and has a nice enough face, but his nose is kind of crooked and his hair is thick and unruly, dark brownish red, and coarse, sort of like Robert Horton. His mouth is strong, though, and his chin has a little hole in it--the McFarland cleft. His eyes were always his best feature.
Paul used to laugh a lot, so his face had a lot of character, even though he wasn't the handsomest man around.
There was this thing about Victoria, though, that came to light. She was awfully jealous. In our business, a jealous person just didn't fit in. There were lots of female clients and Paul always treated them nice, even flirted a little with them, young or old, cute or ugly--it didn't make any difference to Paul; he never meant anything by it, just did it to make them feel somebody card enough to see them as interesting persons.
I'll admit Paul was wild before he decided to settle down to the business. He always did have an eye for the pretty gals and never did seem to go with any one of them for very long.
Until he met Victoria. She'd come out one summer as a guest with her fiance---You could sure see she had straying eyes, the way they kept straying to Paul. But for all his charm and flirty ways--he was never one to play around with someone else's woman. He flirted a little with her, no doubt enamored by her beauty, but he kept hands off.
I don't think she was used to men treating her that way. I watched her a lot that summer....It was more like a game to me, watching all the women make a play for Paul: He wasn't just the hired hand, he was "The Boss's Son", and then, "The Boss". But he usually was careful enough not to get involved. I heard Dad tell him once that we had a reputation to maintain, and jealous, angry guests did not come back.
Dad told me all that, too, when it became obvious I was getting my share of the male (married or otherwise) guests' attention.
Two pages of Chapter One: continued sometime.........